What breed of dog do you have there?" asks a fellow patron at my veterinarian's office.
"A Wachtelhund," (pronounced Walk-tell-hund, or Valk-tell-hund if you use a German accent) I say to the person admiring my dog.
"A Walkta what?" is his reply.
Owning a rare breed of dog has made my life interesting these last seven years. Wachtelhunds (or Wachtels) have spaniel-looking ears and curly hair, but they are colored like a German shorthair. When I meet other dog owners at the vet, while out hunting or when walking my dog they guess my dog is a field spaniel or a small Munsterlander.
Some people say they've heard of a Wachtel and that they've even seen one before. I laugh and think, "Not likely!" There are less than 150 Wachtels in North America--therefore, actually coming across a Wachtelhund is unlikely.
So how did I come to own a rare dog breed? My previous dog was a cocker-Brittany mix and would hunt whatever I wanted to hunt, primarily upland game (pheasants and quail) and waterfowl. I also hunt deer and turkeys. I decided I wanted to get another small to medium-sized spaniel-like dog that could do it all.
I had recently been hired by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services program as a biologist to eliminate a population of wild hogs on an Army base in Kansas and thought it would be interesting to use a dog to track the wild pigs. It was going to take a versatile dog to hunt all the game in which I was interested. My quest had begun. (I have since discovered that a Wachtel can do all these things and much more.)
I bought a dog encyclopedia and perused the breed descriptions and looked at the photos. The Wachtelhund description sounded like a match to my prerequisites. I then searched the Internet, which was at that time still in its infancy. I can remember typing in all combinations of Deutsche Wachtelhund, only to get "Sorry, no matches found." (Today there are thousands of Internet matches; however, few will be in English.) I called kennel clubs and was told they had never heard of the breed.
I was ready to give up when a friend called and said he'd seen an ad in the back of Gun Dog magazine for German spaniels (their given American name, which is actually no longer used). I called the number and spoke with Dave Pepe. Dave explained he had hunted with Wachtels while he was stationed in Germany in the Air Force. He was amazed at their abilities as a versatile hunter and wanted to hunt with them and promote the breed in the United States. Dave's breeding pair was the first pair of Wachtelhunds to be recognized and registered with the United Kennel Club (UKC).
The largest gathering of Wachtelhunds in North America? From left to right: Chad Richardson, Kansas; Dave Pepe, Wisconsin; Kraig Glazier, Montana; and John Gilva, Alaska.
After talking with Dave about the dogs, my desire to own one was reinforced. He was selling puppies from his second litter, so at this time there were only nine Wachtelhunds registered in the U.S.--Dave's breeding pair and seven pups from his first litter.
Now, over seven years later I realize maybe you shouldn't pick out a dog breed by a short description and a photo, but I am fortunate to have gotten to know this rare, versatile breed. I am confident that these dogs can be trained to hunt or find just about anything. I have used my dog to hunt pheasants, quail, waterfowl, turkey and wild pigs.
One day last summer I was walking across my backyard to unlock a camper I had stored in the yard. I had the camper's single key in my hand. While walking across the thick grass my hand accidentally brushed my leg and caused me to inadvertently flip the key into the grass. I looked for the key for 20 minutes until frustration took over. I walked over to the kennel to pet my dog and relieve some of the frustration.
As I petted her an idea popped into my head--I wondered if Foxy could find the key. I figured it had to have some sort of scent on it, so what the heck. I took Foxy over to the spot where I thought the key had fallen and gave her the "find it" command and in less than five seconds she rooted that key out of the grass. If these dogs can find a piece of lifeless metal when asked, imagine how well they can find game!
A Wachtelhund retrieving a wood duck from a Kansas stream.
Although I have learned a lot about Wachtelhunds and their breed history over the years I must credit Dave Pepe for much of the information that follows. He has spent time hunting with the dogs in Germany and has passed the history of the breed on to me.
Wachtelhunds originated in Germany, where they are still owned and sold almost exclusively to foresters and professional hunters. In Germany, the Wachtelhund is classified as a versatile forest dog bred for finding sparse game in harsh conditions such as mountains, ice and snow. They are basically flushers and will sometimes flash point, but are noted for going in for the kill.
They hunt with a high nose, scenting the air as a pointer does when game is far away, but they will put their nose to the ground like a hound to follow foot scent when game is close. Unlike hounds they can be called off a trail and will return to their master.
They naturally hunt in an arc pattern before the hunter, bringing the game back before the hunter. They excel at water work, retrieving and trailing game; they are aggressive in the hunt, but they are also a loyal family dog and friendly with people. They do best living in the home.
The Germans classify the Wachtelhund as a Stoberhund, hund meaning dog. In English, "stober" means, "to rummage about." The Germans classify all other flushers as spaniels, separate from the Stober dog category. The Stober dog goes back hundreds of years in German history and was used to create the Wachtelhund and various other pointer breeds originating in Germany.
Prior to the German revolution in the 1600s, royalty owned all the game and only they could afford kennels and dog handlers. They developed from hounds and Stobers other specialists, pointers, flushers and hounds, much like we
have done today with most hunting breeds. After the revolution the German commoner could hunt but could not afford to maintain a kennel of specialist dogs. So the Germans developed versatile hunting dogs. The Wachtelhund was created during this time as a versatile forest dog and is the only dog remaining in the Stober category today.
Dave Pepe with a delivered rooster and three excited Wachtelhunds.
One of the unique qualities of the Wachtelhund that separates the breed from spaniels and other flushers is their tendency to give tongue (bark) when trailing game. This trait was used for hunting in deep forests and thick brush and they will do so (give tongue) on feathered game, as a running pheasant, and on fur or hoofed game. Like all German hunting dogs, the Wachtelhund was bred to do many hunting tasks such as finding game; retrieving and recovering game; blood trailing wounded deer, red stag (elk) and boar.
In Germany they are used for hunting feathered game, including waterfowl, and all fur (hare, fox) and cloven hoof game such as wild boar. They are not pack hunters, but one-on-one hunters and will hold a wounded boar at bay, if necessary.
At the turn of the 20th century, the German Kennel Club directed each breed club to establish standards and performance tests if appropriate, and issue breed specific pedigrees. In 1903, the Verein Deutsche Wachtelhund (VDW) or German Wachtelhund Club was established. By 1908, the VDW had established performance hunt measurement tests and was conducting performance hunt tests throughout Germany for the Wachtelhund. In 1910, the VDW implemented its breed standard by selecting eleven Wachtelhunds, four males and seven females.
Basically, one Wachtelhund was selected from each region of Germany, with two coming from the Hanover region. All of today's registered Wachtelhunds were linebred from these 11 Wachtelhunds. The smallest was a female at 35 centimeters and the largest was a male at 53 centimeters. The initial breed standard established height at 35 to 50 centimeters.
Between 1972 and 1975, 1,000 Wachtelhunds were measured, thus establishing new standards. Males were 50 centimeters, plus or minus two centimeters; females were 48 centimeters, plus or minus two centimeters. More recently the standards were revised to 45 to 52 centimeters for females and 48 to 54 centimeters for males.
In Germany, buyers must enter their Wachtelhunds in a juvenile hunt test before the dogs are 18 months old. There are also three other levels of hunting tests applicable to the Wachtelhund. The juvenile hunt test focuses on trailing and giving tongue, steadiness and willingness to work in water and on land.
Juvenile Wachtelhunds are measured in 10 categories on a one to 10 scale and must obtain a minimum score of five in each category to be entered in the German Wachtelhund Association breeding book, equivalent to our studbooks.
In Europe, breeders wanting to breed their Wachtelhunds must first request permission from the association and provide X-rays of the sire's and dam's hips with a veterinarian's certification that they are free of hip dysplasia before the owners are allowed to breed their dogs. The association only resisters pups from dogs that have passed the juvenile hunt test and are free of hip dysplasia.
WACHTELHUNDS IN NORTH AMERICA
If you have been a long-time subscriber to this magazine you may remember reading something about these dogs in the August/September 1994 issue. At that time Bruce Ranta, a wildlife biologist from Ontario, wrote about his Wachtelhund, which he acquired from a German-owned bear-hunting lodge in Ontario. In 1994 there were only a handful of dogs that were known to be in North America and they were still registered in Germany.
In 1995 Dave Pepe bred his first litter from the sire and dam that he brought over from Germany and convinced the United Kennel Club (UKC) to recognize and register the breed in North America. Since that time there have been several more dogs brought over from Germany to diversify the gene pool and a few other breeders have had litters. The grand total of dogs in North America is now approximately 120.
Foxy retrieves a rooster.
With such a small number of dogs in North America we have not yet formed a formal club. Breeding and hunt testing have not been an issue to this point because all the dogs are direct German imports or descendants of direct imports and have therefore proven themselves under German standards. There is some discussion of starting a North American club and starting the hunt tests soon to ensure we do not lose any of the great traits that these dogs have.
One of the reasons that Wachtelhund owners have not readily fallen into other North American hunt tests is because the Wachtelhund does not fit into established categories. The North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA) does not recognize the Wachtelhund because they do not point. Retriever associations do not recognize them as a retriever and the hound groups do not recognize them as a hound.
NORTH AMERICAN WACHTELHUND REUNION
In January of this year a few Wachtelhund owners decided to have a late-season pheasant and quail hunt in Kansas, my home state. Dave Pepe of Wisconsin, Kraig Glazier of Montana and John Gliva of Alaska each brought his Wachtelhund.
Kraig, a fellow USDA employee, uses his dog Benelli on the job to find coyote dens, as a coyote decoy dog and to trail mountain lions. Benelli also retrieves waterfowl and bark-trails wild Montana pheasants. Kraig grew up a houndsman and a waterfowler and has had multiple breeds, but after owning a Wachtelhund for three years he is convinced the Wachtel can do it all.
John has a littermate to my dog Foxy and hunts grouse in Alaska. Dave brought Wischo, the father to my dog and John's. Between the four of us we had seven Wachtelhunds and as far as we know that was the largest gathering of Wachtelhunds in North America.
During the hunt we enjoyed watching the dogs try to outfox those late-season, extra-smart roosters. By the time the hunt was over we managed to bag some birds, talk about the future of the dogs and where our next pup might come from. If you are one of those people who have three or four dogs that specialize in different types of hunting and are thinking of downsizing, but do not want to sacrifice quality, perhaps the Wachtelhund is for you. I know they have found a place in my heart to stay!
For more information, contact: Chad Richardson at (785) 463-5848 or Dave Pepe at (715) 487-4024, or check out this website: www.deutscherwachtelhund.org.